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Anuradhapura – an Ancient and Sacred Grandeur of S
May 22, 2009 02:54 PM 9445 Views


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There is an element of thrill traversing through the unsecure terrainor brushing past the boundaries of militarily hostile neighbors. I feltthis excitement at the India Pakistan Wagha border in Amritsar, traveling past the southern Lebanon townships near Israel border.However, neither of the above would match the excitement of our travelto Anuradhapura along A9 highway that heads straight to Jaffna.Anuradhapura was considered as a last frontier in the battlefield ofLTTE and Sri Lanka Govt.

It was Nov 2008. Sri Lankan defenseforces were nailing down LTTE but LTTE still had the punch. There werereports of LTTE losing hold on the eastern front but Northern machinerywas still intact. There was a lurching fear that LTTE might getdesperate and bounce back to avenge their loss of eastern front.Exactly a year ago, LTTE had made daring air, ground attack on theAnuradhapura Air Base, and destroyed seven aircrafts. This was thehighest casualty suffered by Sri Lanka Air Force in their war againstLTTE. Though our journey was not exactly inside the LTTE territory, wewere almost under their nose.

Temptation to witness historicaland spiritual place outweighed any risk it might invite. We werefortunate to get a shield from police headquarters in Anuradhapura butwere clearly been instructed to reach before it gets dark. Our journeystarted from Kandy via Matale, a place that has taken brunt of manywars against British forces but also known for beautiful woman. Iwonder if there was any association between these two factors.

Wedrove past through Aluwiharaya – a Buddhist holy place. We could see atemple built on a rock, and were told that a view from the top isgreat. We could not afford to take a stop over, as we had to hit theAnuradhapura by evening. In fading light, traveling through green lushrice paddies with an occasional cyclist or bunch of hamlets along theroad did bring a sense of fear. There were stories of mugging, hijacking along the A9. Though these incidents happened pastAnuradhapura but name A9 had become notorious. Meanwhile, police officekept us calling to know our whereabouts. This was indeed reassuring. Asthe night cover descended on us and with just car light, we could onlysee silhouettes of swaying trees on the either side of the road.

Thevisible signs of barricades on the either side of the road made usaware that we were in Anuradhapura. The security was alert; men toutingmachine guns would watch car occupants at a distance under high beamedtorch. It was obvious that they could not risk with incidents of spateof suicide bombers. This would be followed by cursory investigationwith the driver while metal detectors would be in use against everypart of the car. I realized, being a national did bring certainfriendliness on their faces. I had witnessed the same at Kandy Shrine(Temple of the Tooth), when they allowed me to carry my camera afterbeing told of my nationality. Few more barricades, a police officer’scar, and a bike were waiting for us to take us to beautiful Palm Gardenresort.

Palm Garden Village Hotelis a luxurious landscaped property with many chalets. After ourexciting and adventurous trip, I would have loved to have Lion beer, but on a full moon day, no alcohol is served. Nonetheless, it made mehappy to be in this holy city on a holy day.

Abrief snapshot of Anuradhapura: This city was established byDevanampiya, who ruled from 305 to 266 B.C. Around the same timeanIndian emperor Ashoka(304 BC – 232 BC) was of the Maurya Dynasty ruledalmost the entire Indian subcontinent from 273 BC to 232 BC. Mahindraand Sanghamitra were twins born by his first wife, Devi, in the city ofUjjain. King Ashoka sent these two children to Sri Lanka with cuttingfrom the'tree of enlightenment’. In their company, Devanampiyaconverted to Buddhism. Since then, Anuradhapura became not just greatmonastery but also political and religious capital that flourished over1, 300 years. Like Angkor Wat, this place was also hidden in densejungle for many years. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, the place ison the map of world travelers with all its palaces, monasteries andmonuments.

After the work in the morning, we visitedBodhi Tree Temple(The Sri Maha Bodhiya). This is the second mostsacred place in Sri Lanka, after the Sri Dalada Maligawa, or Temple ofthe Tooth, in Kandy. This Bodhi tree is part of original Bodhi treeunder which the Gautama Buddha attained Nirvana. This makes this treeof 2000 year old. The temple complex is surrounded by historicalremnants. The original branch of this sacred tree is supported withiron crutches. The tree stands on a special platform, protected by agold plated railing.

A white-stone Ruwanveliseya Dagoba isanother holy place adjacent to Sri Maha Bodhi. This place is surroundedby a wall of carved elephant heads is the biggest stupa atAnuradhapura. As one walks past Sri Maha Bodhiya to RuwanveliseyaDagoba, one can go past the Brazen Palace. This was a dwelling for theBuddhist monks over 2000 years ago. Now only 1, 600 stone columns aremute witness to what was to be ten storied, thousand-roomed monument.Ruwanveliseya Dagoba like any other stupa is built in a round shapewith a point on the top. I wondered what it be like inside this dome?Is it empty inside or filled by bricks? However, I learnt that onecould not go inside. This is not a place of worship but rather a placeto store the ashes of monks. The stupa is conceived in the shape of apure "water drop or a bubble".

We could not visit the ThuparamaDagoba, the oldest temple in Anuradhapura that is believed to containthe right collarbone of Buddha and The Jetavanarama Dagoba, 3rd centurystupa that also houses 3000 monks and many museums that detail thehistory of Anuradhapura.

After thanking our police friends inAnuradhapura, now with no fear of LTTE and rejuvenated with spiritualpurification, we started our return journey via Kurunagale. "Kurune"means an Elephant with protruding teeth and Gala in Sinhala means rock.This place named after Elephant Rock has a sprawling lake and alsoBuddha perched on the hill. We enjoyed our food with Lanka beer inrelaxing surroundings of resort and headed back to our temporary homeat Tran Asia Hotel - Colombo.

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